Tech Tips for First-Time College Students

Don't worry, you've got this

Heading off to school should put you in a good mood for learning and having a great time, but there will inevitably be some downfalls. Fortunately, you can control some things to make your life a little easier, especially when it comes to your tech.

Preparing for some of the more common tech troubles before you go to school can save you the frustration, headaches, and money that normally accompany tech issues.

Have a Backup Plan

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The last thing you want to have happen, at school especially, is to work hours or days on a project only to lose it all because your computer permanently stopped working, or was stolen. You have two options to avoid this: do all your work online or back up everything online.

Your best option might be to do all your school work online so that everything you do is saved in the cloud and easily accessible from anywhere you have internet access. For example, you can use Google Docs to write all your papers or log any notes, so that even if your laptop or phone completely stop working or go missing, nothing is lost because it was all online.

Another option is to use a local backup program to keep a second copy of your important files on a flash drive or other hard drive, like an external HDD. However, that backup method makes your data much easier to lose because it's there with you physically.

Similar are online backup services like Backblaze that automatically back up all your files, but instead of storing them locally, they are kept online so that you can restore them should you lose the local copies.

One way to combine both of the above solutions is to use something like Google Drive or OneDrive. With those services, you can not only keep everything you do on your computer backed up online, but then also open those same tools online (from anywhere) and continue working on them, and they’ll sync back to your computer as you make any changes.

Submit Homework in PDF Format

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When your homework is in PDF, you don’t have to worry that it might look different when it’s opened by whoever is grading it because PDFs look the same regardless of the computer or software used to view them. As long as you can export your homework to PDF, tables, images, and other formatting styles will remain the way you see them when the PDF is created.

Another reason to use PDF is because your professor doesn’t need to edit your work, so there’s no need to send your homework as a Microsoft Word document or some other similar format.

There are lots of ways to make PDFs. For example, you can export a Word document to PDF from the Save As menu, or use Google Docs to convert a document to PDF via the File > Download as menu, or use a PDF printer to save a document from any program to the PDF format.

Use Your School Email Address to Get Deals on Software & Services

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Some companies give away discounted software to students, so taking advantage of those offers is a great way to start saving from the get-go. All you need is a valid email address from your school (it probably has to end in .edu).

Microsoft is one example where you can get discounts (sometimes hundreds of dollars off) on tech products, but the big one here is that Office 365 Education is free for students.

Another place you can get student discounts is Best Buy. Some deals we’ve seen include $150 off a MacBook, $50 off an iPad Pro, mice discounted by 50 percent, $70 off smart TVs, and $30 off microwaves.

Some other places students can save money include Apple, Lenovo, Dell, Adobe, Spotify, and Norton. To find similar discounts at other websites, look for a “student discount” section at the very bottom of the website or somewhere near the checkout button, or contact the company if you’re not sure whether they have special offers for college students.

Upgrade Your Smartphone Calculator

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The stock calculator app in your phone is great for basic arithmetic but probably not so great for much else. If you want more features than the basic calculator app can provide, there are lots of options out there, both free and paid.

Some calculator apps can keep a history of calculations so that you can review what you've been typing in. Others have built-in currency converters, Apple Watch support, themes, real-time calculations, drag and drop support, advanced math operations, and different modes depending on how you want to use the calculator.

Some examples for Android include Google's Calculator app, ClevCalc, the ASUS Calculator app, and Calculator++. iPhone users might try The Calculator, Calcbot 2, PCalc, Numerical2, Free Graphing Calculator, or Soulver.

Set Up Texting From Your Computer

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One of the biggest distractions is our phones. There are games, social media sites, messaging apps, pictures and more! One thing that can help keep you from reaching for your phone, but still lets you stay in contact with the people who need to reach you, is to text from your computer.

If you have an Android, install Android Messages on your phone and then head over to Messages for web from any desktop web browser (except Internet Explorer) to follow a few steps to get it going.

iPhone users can text from their Mac with the built-in Messages app. Just log in to the Messages app on your Mac using your Apple ID, and you’ll be able to read existing messages and send new ones, right there from your computer.

If your phone or computer doesn’t support those features, you could use a different texting app like WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, or Google Hangouts. All of those services allow for texting from a computer, too.

Now you have a huge screen to text from, and switching over to this texting browser tab is much quicker than pulling out your phone and unlocking it just to see a message.

Don’t Freak Out When Things Don’t Work; Restarting Fixes Most Problems

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It’s bound to happen: your phone won’t open an app, your laptop is frozen, nothing connects to the Chromecast, Google Home stops playing music, all you see are error messages . . . your tech seems to be broken. Before heading to the IT department or calling up your tech savvy friend, just restart the device; that’s often enough to fix most problems.

Whatever was causing the lock up or glitch is usually gone with a full reboot because the lingering or overloaded system resources get reset to their default levels to make it work like it’s supposed to. When you restart something, everything currently loaded in the memory is also usually flushed out, which forces it to start normally.

Restarting usually involves using a button in the software to properly shut down and then turn on the device, but when that isn’t possible you can always unplug it from the wall or other device that it’s attached to, and then plug it back in.

Turn On 'Find My Phone'

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College life can be hectic, and moving from room to room might not be something you’re used to. It can be really easy to forget your phone on a desk or table, in the library, in someone else’s room, etc. The easiest way to avoid having to get a brand new phone should you lose it, is to enable a feature on your phone that lets you find it remotely.

Androids have Find My Device while iPhones use Find My iPhone. With both apps, you can not only see a live location of the phone but also play a sound (even if it’s on silent or vibrate or has headphones plugged in), lock the phone, or even erase the whole device remotely. The important thing here is that while those features are absolutely wonderful, you have to be proactive and enable those services before you lose your phone.

If you’re on an Android, you’re in luck in that as long as your phone is logged in to your Google account, is connected to a data service (like Wi-Fi or mobile data), and the location services are enabled, you can locate your phone through that link above. In other words, your phone is probably already prepared for this.

For iPhones, you have to enable the Find My iPhone feature, which you’re asked to turn on when you first set up your phone, but since it’s not a required step in order to use your phone, it’s possible you’re not currently using it. You can check through the Settings app on your phone, under the iCloud settings. Read How to Use 'Find My iPhone' to Locate a Lost or Stolen Phone for more information.

Set Up Dual Monitors

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Ask anyone who has used more than one monitor with their computer: they probably have a really tough time going back to one. That's because you can get so much more done when you have dual screens.

With a dual monitor setup, you can do things like read something on one screen while writing in another, easily compare two windows, stretch a program to fill both monitors, and more, like watch Netflix while you write essays (OK, maybe not...but it is possible).

While it might sound difficult to configure, using more than one monitor at your desk is actually really easy to set up, even if you use a laptop. It's as simple as plugging the monitor into the video port on the side of the laptop, or the back of the computer if you use a desktop.

There are even USB monitor setups that let you attach monitors directly to the USB ports, meaning you could potentially have more than one extra screen for your laptop.

Use a Centralized Note-Taking App

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It's important to take notes at school, and there are two primary reasons to use a centralized note-taking app vs a traditional one or a notepad: to ensure that you don't lose your notes should you lose your device, and to be able to view and update your notes from any device.

Say you're on your laptop during class jotting down notes, and then you visit the library later to work on something else, only to need the notes on your laptop that you've left in your dorm. If you have a cloud-based notes app, you can pull up those exact same notes from your phone in seconds.

Similarly, if you're a heavy note taker, you'll just feel better knowing that all your notes are synced with your online account so that you can always read them even if your phone and laptop both happen to go missing. Those notes will remain on the internet until you delete them from there.

Here is a great list of apps for note-taking. Plus, iPhone and iPad users that use iCloud might like iCloud Notes. So long as the notes on your iOS device are being backed up with iCloud, you can get to them from all your iOS devices as well as from iCloud.com/notes. You can even add other people to specific notes so that everyone can see the same updates.

Google Keep is a nice option for Android and iPhone/iPad users alike. You can view, edit, create, and delete notes from the app and the Google Keep website. There's also a collaboration feature and a reminders option built in, plus a Chrome extension to easily add online things to your notes.

There are lots of other options, too, some free and others paid, like OneNote, Evernote, Simplenote, and Bear.